Ammunition shortage easing for gun enthusiasts
TAMPA - Local shooting ranges are beginning to reload, but for nine months, bullets were hard to come by. The shortage was due in part to anxiety gun enthusiasts had that President Barack Obama would pass antigun legislation or set hefty taxes on ammunition and firearms, said Mark Little, the operations supervisor of Shooting Sports, a shooting range on North Dale Mabry Highway. No such laws have been proposed and Obama has said he respects Second Amendment rights, but favors "common sense" on gun laws. Last month, Obama signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks. Those assurances did little to allay enthusiasts' fears or stop people from buying ammunition faster than stores could restock shelves."People panicked and started hoarding everything in sight," Little said. "There were times we couldn't order from our distributor - it was that scarce." The shortage for sportsmen is different than the scarcity of ammo for some police forces earlier this year, a dearth fueled by an increase in ammo use by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Retail bullet-makers are catching up now and cases of ammo are again trickling to ranges and shops, Little said. But there was a five-month dry spell when Shooting Sports ran out of ammo for the most popular handguns such as .45 and .38 calibers, he said. The business imposed restrictions on how many boxes of ammo could be purchased. There was a two-box limit for handguns and rifles. Limits have also been set at some Walmarts. The cutoff varies according to caliber and store location, but sometimes as little as one box - or 50 bullets - was allowed. Little said during the hysteria's height, some customers told him that people had lined up at local Walmarts to buy 4,000 rounds at a time. The shortage forced Shooting Sports to raise prices by as much as $7 a box, Little said. Prices are starting to go down again, but some companies are still struggling to make enough bullets for the market. "We are working overtime and still can't keep up with the demand," said Al Russo, spokesman for North Carolina-based Remington Arms Co., which makes bullets for rifles, handguns and shotguns. "We've had to add a fourth shift and go 24-7. It's a phenomenon that I have not seen before in my 30 years in the business." Distributors are also feeling the pinch and continue to scramble to fill orders from retailers. "We used to be able to order 50 or 60 cases and get them in three or four days easy, it was never an issue," said Vic Grechniw of Florida Ammo Traders in Tampa. "Now you are really lucky if you can get one case a month. It just isn't there because the demand is way up." A case contains 500 or 1,000 bullets. Americans buy about 7 billion rounds of ammunition a year, according to the National Rifle Association. In the past year, that figure has jumped to about 9 billion rounds, said NRA spokeswoman Vickie Cieplak. Little said gun sales spiked wildly around the presidential election. "For the last six months of 2008, gun sales were out of sight," Little said. "We were selling assault-type weapons, rifles, everything was going off the shelf. We had a good year." The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System reported that 6.1 million background checks for gun sales were issued from January to May, an increase of 25.6 percent from the same period the year before. "That is going to cause an upswing in ammunition sales," said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association representing about 5,000 members. "Without bullets a gun is just a paper weight."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.